Saturday, January 17, 2009


Problem-oriented approach is central to police functioning, says Sankar Sen*
A Tribune Special
Policing, despite many existing stereotypes, is an extraordinarily complex endeavour. By the very nature of the function, the police are an anomaly in a free society. In a democratic society, as H. Goldstrein puts it, “ they are invested with a great deal of authority under a system of governance in which the authority is granted, sharply curtailed. “
Nevertheless a successful functioning of the police in a democratic society depends upon its ability to maintain a certain degree of order without which a free society cannot function. The strength of a democratic society, the quality of life enjoyed by the citizens, are determined in a large measure by the ability of the police to discharge their duties efficiently.
Police organizations have some of their own peculiar characteristics. Police Officers, unlike Army units, are spread out in the field and not subject to direct supervision. The individual officers possess awesome authority to deprive people of liberty, and even of their lives, and this authority of necessity is delegated to individuals to be exercised in most instances without proper review and control.
In western democratic countries, particularly in the U.S, the prevalent professional model of policing places a high value on police being apolitical. It advocates tight discipline, efficient use of personnel and technology as well as high standards of training.
However, the professional model came under enormous pressure in the later 1960s and early 70s with increase in crime, civil rights protest movements and complaints of minority groups against the police.
Researches on police and police operations conducted during the 1970s revealingly showed limitations of practices like random patrol, rapid response, follow-up criminal investigations that constituted the bedrocks of policing for many years.
The lessons drawn from these studies challenged the value of standard operating procedures of the police and revealed that police resources have been invested in a limited number of practices based on some simplistic concepts of the police role.
The researchers also provided some other important insights. These are police deal with a range of problems many of which are not criminal in nature; arrest and prosecution alone, traditional functions of the police, do not resolve the problems; the police can use a variety of methods to redress the recurrent problems and design different solutions to solve them. Police use a wide range of methods, formal and informal, in getting the job done. Law enforcement is only one of the methods among the many.
It was Goldsteing who first coined the term, “ problem-oriented policing” in 1979. He felt that professional policing only takes a very narrow view of policing and “perpetuated the conflict between the concern for operating efficiently and concern for substance”. He views problem-oriented as comprehensive plan for improving policing in which high priority is attached to addressing substantive problems that face the police. In professional model of policing, the major emphasis is on handling incidents effectively. The efficiency of policing is judged by how speedily they solve the problem assigned to them and thus police officers often deal with the superficial manifestations of deeper problems.

The first step in problem-oriented policing is to move beyond just handling the incidents and take a more in-depth interest by understanding and appraising the forces and factors giving rise to them. The problem thus becomes the unit of police work and serves as a reminder that the job of policing is much more than dealing with crime and criminal law.
The police must proactively try to solve the problems rather than react to the consequences of the problem.
A crucial feature of policing is that it seeks solutions tailored to specific problems. Arrest and law enforcement are not abandoned, but an effort is made in each situation to analyse the problem carefully to find out which of the alternative responses are best suited for effectively dealing with the problem.
The notion of choosing the tool that best suits the problem instead of grabbing the most familiar and convenient tool in the toolbox lies close to the heart of the problem solving.
Goldstein advocated that police must recognize their role in society as broader than just enforcing the criminal law. At the same time , he argued that the police mandate may not be unlimited and all –encompassing.
According to him, the police become involved in every government and quasi-government activities, they risk eroding the balance of power in local and national government. Like the army, there is a sound rationale for keeping police out of certain forms of decision- making. There is an obvious danger that the police agencies may over-extend their resources and try to achieve objectives about which they have little or no expertise.
Problem oriented approach requires careful search for alternatives by the police. This is a legitimate enterprise central to police functioning. The police should be dissuaded from applying a single response haphazardly to a wide range of different types of problems.
However, search for alternatives should be preceded by a careful analysis of the new problems of concern. Striking out in a new direction without thinking through the problem can be counter-productive and has to be discouraged.
In problem solving, the police play the role of helping the community rather than depending on police power and criminal justice system control. The police have also tried to make use of specific forms of social control inherent in existing relationships like parents over children rather than depending on police power for control. Indeed, there are enormous potentials for making greater use of the other social control mechanism.
There are critical differences between community policing and problem-oriented policing. They have different goals and methods. It reduced Goldstein’s intensive analysis of community-wide problems to a more general street problem solving which tends to focus on problem smaller in scope.

Officers analyse these and tend to draw on personal experience for responses. It is more analytical than knee-jerk law enforcement.
Lay members of the community assume that the police have much more authority and capacity than they actually possess. Explaining the constraints and limitations of the police to the community will enable the community to realize the difficulties and limitations under which the police operate. This will ease the pressure on the police and police suggestions and proposals will evoke better response from the community.
In a democratic society in which complex social problems will always place a heavy demand on the police, it is necessary to strive constantly, and not periodically for a form of policing that is not only effective but also humane and civil, that not only protects individual rights and other values basic to a democracy but strengthens our commitment to them.
Of late, initiatives have been taken up to expand problem-oriented policing programmes. The work sponsored by Britain’s Home Office has special significance. It introduces the situational approach- a concept that emphasizes changing the environment(rather than changing the people) and the need to concentrate on specific types of offences or locales.
However, problem-oriented policing requires incorporating these efforts to the mainstream of policing and making them an integral part of the police management and operations.
· The writer, a former IPS officer, is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi

· ( Source:The Sunday Tribune, 11th January, 2009)

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